Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Adventures in the Ishinca Valley

Sometimes life throws a few extra challenges at you when you least expect it. At these times, it comes down to your mind´s capacity to deal with the added challenges. If the mind is willing, the body will follow.

About a week ago Simon and I headed into the Ishinca Valley in the Cordillera Blanca with the main goal of climbing the direct west face of Nevado Tocclaraju (6032 m), a beautiful line up an imposing mountain. With the collectivos on strike (a regular occurence in Peru), we took a taxi from Huaraz to a little place called Pashpa, where we arranged for an arriero (mule driver) and 2 burros to take our gear to base camp (4300m) in the beautiful Ishinca valley.

After about 3 hours walking, we arrived in Base Camp and camped next to a Scottish-British duo, Lester and Ben who we had met previously in the Santa Cruz valley. A couple of easy going lads who were good company and knew how to have a good laugh.

Two classic Alaskan guys were also camped nearby. They hadnt had much luck with the weather or the altitude, but were still in good spirits and good guys to hang out with.

The next day, Simon and I packed for the mountain and headed up to high camp. The weather didnt look promising. The weather had been unseasonally bad in the Cordillera Blanca this year with lots of snow. After it started snowing halfway to high camp (5000m), we changed plans slightly and decided to make a carry of gear to the snowline and hope the weather was better the next day.

Luck was on our side and the next 2 days yielded better weather for our push to high camp and the summit the following day. On the day we climbed to high camp, the Alaskans, Andrew and Thorsten made a valiant attempt at climbing the normal route on Tocclaraju from base camp in a day. They left at 8am in the morning. Thorsten turned back halfway but Andrew pushed on late in the day and made it to the summit and back safely(over 1700m of altitude gain and descent in a day).

We had the mountain all to ourselves. Bad weather in previous days had made other parties descend to BC. After leaving camp at 1am on a cold and windy morning, we made it to the bergshrund (where the glacier meets the mountain) in a few hours. Then it was onto the west face proper. Simon negotiated the tricky overhanging bergshrund to get onto the face. Then it was relatively cruisy climbing for a few pitches on steep 60 degree neve (frozen snow), before the ice got harder and steeper (about 75 degrees). The morning was cold and the feet were cold, but moving kept us warmer so upward we climbed. This was Simon´s and mine second climb together after Alpamayo and all the communication and transitions were as smooth as clockwork

After about 9 pitches (60m ropelengths),we topped out on the face onto the south ridge. A few hundred metres of knee deep sugar snow slogging later and we were on top of Tocclaraju. 5 or 6 steps at a time in this soft snow was abuot all we could manage before needing to rest for a few breaths. We were on top by 930 in the morning, faster then expected.

After the obligatory photos and summit contemplations, we headed down the normal route (North west ridge) and back to high camp. The weather changed every few minutes from glaring sunshine to swirling clouds and snow flurries. A few times on the descent, there was a complete whiteout and we were forced to follow old tracks and our instincts back to safety.

After a brief rest at high camp we packed and made ur way back to BC by 3pm, tired and happy. We had scored a good weather window and got the summit when many other teams had been thwarted. Sometimes its nice to have bit of luck.

Lester and Ben had made it up a neighboring mountain called Ranrapalca the previous day and were psyched at their first big peruvian peak. A leisurely rest day in BC followed in rather shitty weather. Pancakes for breakfast folllowed by fishcakes for lunch and cards and boardgames in the refugio killed most of the day.

Simon and I made the decision the next moring to head back to Huaraz that day so I organised some donkeys and waited for them to arrive. After a breakfast of tinned peaches, I wasnt feeling too well and had a spew. No idea exactly what caused it but the thought of the 3 hour walk out wasnt particularly appealing.

After a bit of a mix up with the donkeys, we were on our way out by about midday. I just pointed the head in the right direction and the body followed for the next few hours. On the hour-long ride back to Huaraz in the taxi, I was freeing cold with my whole body shivering. The shivering and fever contnued for the next few hours until i fell into a fitful sleep.

Some Cipro and a few days R & R in Huaraz might be just what I need...........

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